His shy and quiet personality was vastly different from that of the other guys that hung around the EuroRelief information office. It struck me as odd that he was so quiet and aware of his words, but as I got to know him, it was a refreshing change of pace from the boisterous personalities of the other refugees.
Foad was the first refugee I met that travelled to Lesvos from Aleppo, Syria. In the moment I thought, “Wow! He’s really from Aleppo, where the airstrikes and ISIS and the Assad regime are just wreaking havoc.” I’m appalled at the way my mind initially reacted.
Foad has been in the camp for a year and two months, but he received his residency seven months ago and is now waiting for his passport. He looks much younger than his 32 years of life show, and he was a construction worker in Syria before he fled for refuge. His sense of humor is well timed and provides a nice break from the terrible situation in the camp. One night I asked him if he knew my friend Mohammad from level 2, and he responded with a sly, semi-sarcastic grin and asked, “Which Mohammed? There are like a hundred here!”
Foad was the first refugee to share the story about his crossing from Turkey to Lesvos in-depth with me. I was honestly afraid to ask the refugees about that experience because I was unsure of the reactions I’d receive.
He told me that he crossed the sea in March 2016, and the air that day was chilly. A smuggler had provided him and tens of others with a tiny rubber dinghy. They were preparing to launch from the coast of Turkey, and no one would muster the courage to get in the water to launch the front of the boat.
With his belongings hanging over his shoulder in a sack, Foad jumped in the water and led the boat into the frigid sea. Everyone poured into the boat, and in the process, he was accidentally hit by someone, causing him to fully plunge into the water and lose his belongings. His clothes and mementos from home were gone.
Foad resurfaced, hopped into the boat, and set off for Lesvos. About 30 minutes into the voyage, they found a hole in the bottom of the raft and panic ensued. The group was divided about whether to return to Turkey or keep going. People shouted, “If we continue, we die!” They decided to head back to Turkey.
Once back in Turkey, someone called the smuggler and explained the situation. They waited three hours for the smuggler to return with a new boat. Foad commented about the cold he experienced. “I’ve never been that cold,” he said.
The smuggler finally showed up with a new boat, and they restarted their journey. Foad said they left Turkey at 4 p.m. that afternoon. After four hours of dangerous sailing, he said the Greek coast guard intercepted their boat and commanded them to stop. The refugees shouted at their driver to keep going, and when the Greeks saw they weren't stopping, they raised their guns and commanded them to stop once more. They relented.
Foad said they waited for a long time until another coast guard ship finally arrived to pick up the refugees and safely transport them to shore. He said they were the last boat in a line of four to be picked up, and taken to the camp.
He shared this story with Will and I late into a walk we all took together from Mytilini to Panagiouda after Will and I had spent the day in Molyvos visiting the life jacket graveyard with other volunteers. Hearing his story in light of the experience we had earlier encountered in Molyvos shook me.
At the beginning of our walk I asked how he had been since I hadn’t seen him in a few days, and he excitedly told me that he had just spent a lot of time with his “girl.” He said he hasn’t seen her in a while and that it gave him so much joy to see her. His “girl” is the daughter of a German family he’s been living with on and off since obtaining his residency.
He continued to go on about the time they’ve spent together with an undeniable adoration for her. He said he found her the day before laying on the beach and spent the day with her there. They kissed he said.
Her parents have recently reduced the amount time they can spend together to just once a week. Her parents like him, but they are unsure about the situation since he is a Syrian refugee with no money. He said her parents travel all over the world and spend a lot of time in New Zealand at another home when they’re away from Greece.
Foad talked about his irrefutable love for her and how alive he feels around her and how much he truly cares about her. It struck a chord in me because I want to feel the same way about someone I love. I quickly grew jealous of the love he has for her.
The topic changed from his relationship to the Christian faith, and Foad was quick to proclaim that he is a Christian. He spoke with passion about the Lord and how so many Christians have a skewed vision of who God is and how to act in their faith. He recited Scriptures and explained who Jesus was. I was absolutely blown away.
Every word he uttered seemed to give more honor, power and glory to God. He said that he doesn’t understand the willy-nilly prayers people sometimes speak in cafes that have no reverence for God. Foad said, “I have to get on my knees before him because I am not God. I am his follower and I want to respect him.” It became apparent to me that Foad has a more submissive an honorable view of God than I ever really have.
Foad became a Christian while he was still in Syria working with some organizations providing relief there before he left. He became a follower of Christ because he couldn’t handle the “lying so many of the Muslims continued to do.” He said, “A Muslim could say, ‘The ocean is yogurt, I swear!’ And people would have to believe them.”
He talked about the way he is sometimes badly treated in the camp because he converted to Christianity. He told us of one instance in which a group of Muslim Syrians pushed him against achainlink fence and were ridiculing him for following Christ. He said they spread his arms out wide like Christ on the cross and mocked him. He said he stood there and took it. He respected them and did not retaliate.
My mind immediately went to Romans 12:9-21: Marks of a True Christian. I read verses 16-21 to him that say:
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [ESV]
Blown away, the conversation moved into how much respect he wants to give others. He never wants to speak malice over anyone, and he doesn’t want to stoop to the sinful levels of those around him.
He wants to be someone that others can count on to be honest and generous in all they do. He even tested Will by asking for a cigarette and a lighter early in our walk. Foad had three packs in his hand that were brand new, but he said they were for someone else. At this point in the walk, Foad reached into his pocket and pulled out two cigarettes, one for himself and one for Will. He wanted to see how generous Will was, and he repaid him for his kind actions.
This walk opened my eyes to the true heart some of the refugees have. Every interaction I’ve had with Foad has been genuine and full of conviction from the Lord about the way I act in my own life.
I have learned two very important things from my time spent with Foad: Acting respectfully and generously to everyone — regardless of who they are — is not an option but rather an essential part of who we are as Christ followers, and that words carry so much weight.
One night, a volunteer from New Zealand asked him, “Why are you so quiet?” Foad replied confidently. “When I speak, I want it to be something meaningful and good,” he said. Boy, is that something I need to start living by.